Notorious Chico theater troupe, The Butcher Shop, reunites after 15 years
Chico-cred weekend If you were too young, or too clueless, or you once had a young rocker dude’s vague aversion to theater freaks (raises hand) back when the notorious Butcher Shop was putting on its celebrated backyard theater, music, shadow-puppet happenings 15 years ago, you now have the chance to relive an energetic and creative time in Chico’s history. This Labor Day weekend, many of the original players (most of whom were also original Blue Room Theatre players, as the downtown black-box theater was founded by the Butcher Shop crew) will make their way to 2500 Estes Road (follow Normal south to the end) for two reunion performances, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 5-6, 7:30 p.m. (lawn seating—bring a blanket and anything else you need).
On the program are new short plays written and/or performed by such Chico ex-pats as Forrest Gillespie, Jesse Karch, Michael Gannon and current Emmy-winning Daily Show writer (and former CN&R Arts Editor) Jason Ross, among others. There will also be music by house band Dave the Butcher, plus surprises by such luminaries as Brad Moniz and members of the family who hosted the original Butcher Shop in their back yard, brothers Dylan and Denver Latimer (sons of Chico lawyer Dennis Latimer and Chico State English professor Mary Ann Latimer). In anticipation of two nights of free, outdoor community theater, Arts DEVO had a chat with co-founder Denver.
The Butcher Shops took place in your parents’ back yard—did you really cut a hole in a wall of their garage for one of the performances?
They were on vacation when we cut the wall open to the garage and built the stage. It was a surprise, but they took it in stride and actually embraced the idea—we staged one of my father’s short plays during the first year. My mother made some cameo appearances over the years and has been extremely supportive of both the Butcher Shop and the Blue Room. I think they both recognize the importance it plays in building and sustaining an artistic community.
How’d the creation of the Blue Room Theatre come about?
Well, it was difficult to establish an artistic identity that people could identify and then follow, and we pissed off all the other theater companies in town, except Chico City Lights Opera. We were the young upstarts and we were confronting best practices at that time. Building a community of like-minded artists was both the most challenging and also the most gratifying thing that happened. This year we celebrate all those actors who came out of the woodwork in 1993-96 and became life-long collaborators.
Any thoughts on how the Blue Room has evolved over its 15 years?
It’s had a succession of artistic leaders, and it’s had its ups and downs. I don’t think there has been a strong artistic mission that has been followed throughout the history. You can argue that each artistic leader brings a different mission to the theater, but I think the space lends itself to experiment and to intimacy. These are very difficult things to develop in a volunteer environment.
Do you think Chico’s current theater scene is in good health?
I’m impressed with the size of the community the Ruttenburgs have built out at the Chico Cabaret. However, I don’t think Chico theater is in good shape artistically. Most of the work I’ve seen over the past year has been hastily produced.
What should attendees expect at the reunion shows?
We have an almost entirely New York City writing stable. I’m very excited about the scripts. Some of the acting might be ragged, as the rehearsal process is going to be abbreviated. But I think the spirit of innovation and the DIY aesthetic will shine through.